Quitting Europe will leave a hole in UK planning

For the next two years, the big issue will be Brexit, now we've set the clock ticking under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Yet it's hard to fathom what will change in the transport sector.

Part of the problem stems from a rather profound national ignorance of what the EU does (let alone what the UK has done for the EU). In her 2013 book, How Europe shapes British Public Policy, academic Janice Morphet explained how we have been subject to a continuing deceit. While the Government has played a key role in drafting much EU legislation, policy implementation, especially where investment is concerned, is generally draped in a narrative of British government initiative – as if the feel-good factor would be lost were its provenance to be known. Unsurprisingly, with this history of carefree misrepresentation, it is unclear – in transport as in other areas – what will change come Brexit day two years hence.

Fortunately, published at the end of February, Prof Morphet's new book Beyond Brexit? is here to help. As visiting professor at UCL's Bartlett School of Planning, Janice has great knowledge of planning, infrastructure and land use – the wider policy mix within which many transport planning decisions are taken – and she knows the European Commission inside out. Her book provides a rare chance to get a better understanding of the wide overlay of EU policy on our national affairs, including (and specifically so here) on transport.

One of the main concerns expressed in her book is that while under the Great Repeal Bill existing EU legislation will be transposed into UK law, the treaties from which they are derived (and which provide their fundamental principles and legal framework) will not. Why this matters is that the EU policies of cohesion and subsidiarity – along with the principles of the single market itself (the development of which was of course a UK initiative led by Lord Cockfield in the second half of the 1980s) – have no legislative or constitutional presence in Britain, yet are fundamental to policies and investment planning that determine transport provision.

So, by way of example, the devolved nations, the super-regions of the North and Midlands, the London mayoralty powers, the City Deals and mayors of combined authorities are each an enactment, at some level, of the EU subsidiarity principle. As is widely understood, with devolved powers (including for producing longer term strategic plans) comes the certainty and clarity that supports investment and better transport services.

If we want to address those communities that feel abandoned and missing out on metropolitan prosperity – the widely-identified despair component of the Brexit vote – then the EU's cohesion principle needs a national equivalent, and funding too. After 2020, the EU will adopt new policies on macroeconomic strategies to tie together plans in housing, infrastructure and skill development across large regions: will the UK have the wherewithal to do the equivalent nationally (no spatial plan) or regionally (limited funding)?

EU structural funds are widespread and feature in multiple local enterprise partnership programmes, for instance those of Swindon & Wiltshire and Leicester & Leicestershire. They are crucial for places that have weak economic performance such as Cornwall, parts of Wales and the north east of England: places that EU structural funds are crucial for areas that have weak economic Performance voted for Brexit, but then local political leaders put in an urgent request to ensure that replacement funding was put in place.

The European Investment Bank made €6.6bn loans to the UK in 2015, and transport accounted for 22% of this. EIB funds go right across the transport spectrum: for the Jubilee Line, the Second Severn Crossing, the Port of Liverpool, new rolling stock in East Anglia... While existing loans will be honoured, the EIB will be unable to make further loans to such transport projects post-Brexit unless there is unanimous agreement among the 27 member states that it should do so.

The Trans-European Transport Networks have existed since 1996, and under that programme funding has gone into HS1, Crossrail, the West Coast route modernisation, and the A14 (part of a euro-route from Crete to Donegal!), including for the Cambridge busway. Following a re-set in 2013, HS2, the Northern Hub and schemes in South Wales were added. Designation as a trans-European corridor obviates the need for national primary legislation. Prof Morphet suggests that post-Brexit, such projects will need to start one stage further back in the planning approval process: a role for the NIC or for the new sub-national transport bodies, perhaps.

And then there are many other programmes such as Interreg or the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans launched in Bristol and already taken up by 20 places in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, coordinated by Act TravelWise.

Our planning framework is European, and to avoid an investment hiatus in transport, we'll need a suitably devolved national apparatus by 2020.

Reference: Transport Times May 2017 Issue

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